What Not to Pack if You're Studying Abroad

Today, we hear from Lisa Harvey, the newest member of the Accent Florence team. A prolific writer and enthusiastic traveler, Lisa joined Accent last month as a Programs Coordinator, where she organizes activities and assists students with day-to-day life abroad. This week, Lisa gives advice on what not to pack when preparing for study abroad.

When I was in the third grade, we were told to invent a machine that would help with daily life; some of my friends drew machines that would do their homework, others invented room-cleaners, and me? I invented a packing machine. I hated packing so much in third grade that I invented a machine to do it for me.

You’d think after becoming a wandering vagabond and living abroad, I’d have gotten used to this horrible process. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever get there. However, I have mastered it in a sense – so I’m here to help you not have stress when you heave that forty-nine-point-nine-pound suitcase onto the scale at the airport. There are plenty of articles on what to pack when studying abroad, but these lists cause over-packing. Instead, we’re going to focus on what you should leave out of that suitcase.


Don’t Pack Your Entire Wardrobe:
Instead, only pack the basics. If you’re anything like me, I used to pack thinking of individual events that would need specific outfits; beachwear for days on the sand, evening attire for when I get invited to fancy parties, and even sports clothes so I can go on all of those runs I’m planning to do.

Though this is an OK technique, it does set you up for an overweight bag. Instead, skip all of the extras – instead of three bathing suits, bring one if you won’t be at the beach every day. If you don’t know of any fancy nights out, don’t bring that suit – it’ll just collect dust in your closet. Instead, bring t-shirts, shorts, only a few pairs of dark pants that can be worn multiple times, and layers for changes in weather!

Leave the Stilettos at Home:
I don’t care if they’re a size five – stilettos have some weight to them, and you don’t need them. And don’t whine that they’re your favorite pair. You’re going to have a new favorite pair when you see all of the new styles that your destination has in store for you. Going somewhere with cobblestones or dirt roads? Those shoes you laboriously transported across the ocean will be thrown to the wayside and if you do succeed at walking in them, you’ll probably throw them out by the end of the semester. Save yourself the grief. This way, you’ll have less weight in the bag, and a new gift to yourself that you can brag about when you get home.

Athletic Equipment:
So you want to ski/board in the Alps or New Zealand, or Chile, or Japan and absolutely need to have your equipment with you? Or you think that if you bring that football with you, you’ll make friends more easily – hey, it worked freshman year, right? These things are baggage you don’t need and probably won’t use (like my rugby ball, mouth guard, or lacrosse stick). Though it seems like a good idea and will allow you to have a comfortable reminder of home, these items are bulky and may not even be useful in your destination. If you really want to keep one with you, keep that item to the side in an only-if-it-fits pile that you can add in if you have room at the end of packing. Really, make one of these piles. It’ll help you not to overpack!

Blow Dryers & Straighteners:
I know (actually I don’t; my hair is stick straight and doesn’t hold a curl), you can’t live without your straightener or blow dryer or whatever you guys use these days, but, seriously, I’m saving you tears. Being abroad means different power sources, voltages, and plugs. If you bring your ceramic top-of-the-line beautifier, it or your hair will die a crispy death, complete with a horrible smell. I’ve seen more hair tools than I can count defeated by bad converters and simple incompatibility. Once you’re where you’re going, buy it there. And if you’re heading somewhere where you don’t think you’ll have access to buy one? That means that the locals probably don’t either and no one is going to care if your hair is frizzy. 

Too Many Products:
Now, I am one to talk because I stock up on my deodorant like the apocalypse is coming. However, deodorant is a tricky thing and if you do have a favorite, definitely bring a few sticks/cans to last you your entire trip. But that is the exception — don’t bring products like shampoo and conditioner. They have those things wherever you’re going (and again if they don’t, you are roughing it and it means the locals are smelly too. Embrace it.) Mainstream items like shampoo, toothpaste, etc., will be similar, if not the same, as at home. Loading your bag with them will only add extra poundage that you will hate when dragging it through airports (and honestly, if you’re living with roommates, collectively buy shampoo if you’re all OK with it – it saves money and foot/shelf room in the shower!)

Your BFF:
Listen, I know that it sounds like the most amazing thing to party around Europe with your bros or sorority sisters, but this is a recipe for failure. I have seen too many friendships and relationships fall apart while traveling. Though you may have some good times, you’ll also be tied down to the group. If you’re alone? You’ll meet new friends that like what you like and you get to do whatever you want because you’re only worrying about you.

Your Insecurities:
Not that these would go in the suitcase next to your underwear, but hear me out: studying abroad is tough, regardless of whether you’re amped for it or nervous about getting on the plane. And truthfully, the underlying reason why most of us overpack is that we believe that all those items in our suitcase define who we are and where we’re from. We want that shirt because it has been our favorite for years and reminds us of home. What you need to learn is that the fifty pounds of stuff that you’re lugging behind you is not you (or it was up until this moment) and what you’re doing is heading off to a destination that will change the contents of that suitcase.

When you have that return ticket in your hand, the clothes in your bag will be different. You may not like that old straightener when you get home. Your mind will be different and so will your heart, because studying abroad changes you in ways you wouldn’t expect. So leave those insecurities and that “just in case” stuff behind – open your eyes to new and exciting adventures and keep a few empty pounds in your suitcase to fill with the new parts of you that you’ll collect over the months you’re adventuring.

~Lisa Harvey, Accent Florence

Every Accent Center is staffed by a team of friendly, knowledgeable, and experienced professionals who are there to assist you with life abroad. No matter what anxieties or concerns you have, we are here to help. So if you’re ready to take the plunge and study abroad, visit our program finder to discover the best experience for you.